Tales from the crypt: The River Wild

In the summer of 1997, on an unseasonably cold Memorial Day weekend, 6 intrepid friends headed into the beautiful woods around Shawano county in Northern Wisconsin to camp and whitewater raft….And they were never heard from again – dun dun dun! I’m just kidding – but this definitely is the most unoriginal start for a horror movie ever!

Anyway, so there we were, graduate students from engineering, business, journalism or communication or whatever the hell B was studying. Three from all over the US representing the great states of Alaska, Colorado, and Michigan – hearty Americans well versed in camping, outdoors, smore making, and generally well prepared for roughing it. These kids knew one end of a tent pole from the other! Three from India – very much out of our depth having never been out of an area with at least 1500 people/sq mile, but gung ho about acquiring a quintessential American experience!

We arrived at the campground after a 6 hour drive and set up camp – three tents, six sleeping bags, and it was all going great. Our campsite was deep in the woods where you could hear the wind blowing gently through the still-quite-bare trees and the soft rustling of woodland creatures. Dave and I had been dating about 4 months so it was a heady time of finding everything about each other completely adorable – puke! And doing everything together such as using the restrooms before dinner – double puke.

And that’s when the first shoe dropped as we had the following conversation through the restroom door:

Dave: are you nearly done honey?

Me: yup, just about – ummm.

Dave: what’s up?

Me: well…..I can’t seem to find the flush.

Dave: there isn’t a flush – it’s an outhouse.

Me: what do you mean there’s no flush?

Dave: well, it’s a hole in the ground honey. This is a rustic campground.

Me: That’s insane! I’m pretty sure “rustic” meant charming and homey – not un-plumbed! You Americans are certifiably crazy!

Temperatures that night dropped to below freezing and my cheap Kmart or Walmart sleeping bag was woefully unable to keep the heat in so I spent the night wearing every piece of clothing I had bought with me and still freezing my ass off. The next morning temperatures had climbed to a balmy 33 degrees Fahrenheit and the levels of general enthusiasm amongst six 24 year-olds had palpably waned. The ice crystals on the toilet paper was what killed it for me a little!

But we still had a day of whitewater rafting planned so we headed over to the Wolf river to a wonderful establishment called Shotgun Eddy, donned our wetsuits, and soon three rafts were making their way down the river. It was a beautiful day, clear and bright, and ….then it started snowing. And there were legit icebergs in the water. And the first time we went down a ginormous waterfall, the raft filled up forcing us to the bank where we stood for many minutes in the excruciatingly icy river tipping it over. And I lost feeling in my legs and the only way to keep warm was to paddle. The 8 miles were punctuated by thrilling waterfalls with the last one being the best/scariest. The river gradually descends and the last drop feels like 10 feet as your heart plummets into your stomach. We managed to go over backwards and still stay in the raft which was a minor miracle!  dellsl1

Now, I want to stress that Dave and I remember this trip pretty much the same with some small differences as explained in the following table:

She said He said
There were icebergs in the water More like ice cubes, think less Titanic and more gin and tonic
Occasionally there were blizzard-like conditions with visibility down to a few feet There were maybe a few flurries, maybe three snowflakes in all that melted as soon as they hit the water
There were 7 waterfalls in all and each was over 5 feet 5 waterfalls and only the last one could really be measured in feet

I’d say the truth, as so often happens, is somewhere in between. So today, on our 16th wedding anniversary, here are the things I learned from my first whitewater/camping experience that may be applied (very loosely) to marriage:

– Sometimes you can’t flush the s#@! away and you have to just let it be. Tell yourself you’re doing it for the environment!

– Stop occasionally to bail your raft out because otherwise you’re just rowing through rapids with extra weight and, as someone whose spent most of her adult life carting around extra weight, I can confirm that it is absolutely not fun!

– Sometimes you will pull together and everything will be pretty smooth sailing and other times you … well, won’t. And you will want to smack the person in the boat with you with the oar that they generously and foolishly let you have. But remember, either way you’re going downstream because there’s no controlling the river! Also, when it is a minus gazillion degrees, paddling helps you stay warm.

– Enjoy the view during the un-turbulent parts. You’re paddling through the most beautiful show put on by nature and it’s peaceful – take it in. Because pretty soon you’ll be screaming like a stuck pig navigating rapids and rowing furiously just to avoid falling into frigid waters.

– And even though sometimes you’re miserable and cranky and want nothing more than for the moment to pass, one day you will look back with such fond nostalgia. And the memories of this time that you were so cold you could hear your teeth chatter, will have the power to warm your heart.

– Paddle hard and have fun and if you fall into subzero temperature waters, remember, you have to practice “aggressive self-rescue” – don’t wait on someone to help you out. You are in charge of you so swim your heart out and if you’re lucky you’ll have loving arms waiting to haul you to safety.

So happy 16th anniversSilverHollowareary Dave! According to the many websites I consulted, this is the anniversary for presents of silver holloware. So I hope you like the silver soup tureen I picked up for you – it will come in handy for all your many and frequent soup tureen-ing needs!




  1. I love your commentary about the trip down the Wolf River. I have a picture hanging on my wall that I took of the Wolf River, where I watched two rafts headed down, but then one went upside down, and the paddlers took a very frigid bath, as this was the third weekend in May.

    1. It was a beautiful spot and we had a grand time! But yeah, I think mid June may have been a more comfortable time to go! On the flip side, the water was high and there weren’t many people on the river. Thanks for stopping by my little neck of the woods ;-)!

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